The Sun and Water Cycle

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1 reflect Have you ever jumped in a puddle or played in the rain? If so, you know you can get very wet. What you may not know is that a dinosaur could have walked through that same water millions of years ago. The puddle may not have been where it is now, but the same drops of water were somewhere on Earth. Water on Earth constantly moves through the water cycle. Water passes from Earth to the air and back again. The same water is reused over and over. Suppose you want to carry water from one place to another. You might carry it in a bucket. Or you might use a pump. Water moves through the water cycle in a different way. It depends on the Sun. What is the Sun? What do you think the Sun has to do with the water cycle? What is the Sun? The Sun is a star. It is one of many stars in the universe. The Sun looks like a solid ball, but it s not. All stars, including the Sun, are made of gases. You can t touch and hold a gas like you can a solid, such as a rock. matter: anything that takes up space and has mass. A gas is a form of matter. To imagine what the Sun is like, it might help to think of some gases you know. The air you breathe is a gas. The helium in a balloon is a gas. Helium is also one of the gases in the Sun. Another gas in the Sun is called hydrogen. When you describe what Solids keep the same shape. Rock is solid. Liquids, like this ocean water, can flow. Gases can change shape and size. The helium inside a balloon is a gas. something is made of, you describe its composition. 71

2 Stars can have different sizes and colors. When compared with other stars, the Sun is average in size. It is yellow in color. Other stars may be red or blue. look out! When you look at pictures of Earth and the Sun, you might think they are about the same size. However, the Sun is much, much bigger than Earth. More than a million Earths could fit inside the Sun. The solar system: a collection Sun looks smaller only because it is very far away from of objects that travel Earth. around a star. What types of energy does the Sun produce? The Sun is at the center of our solar system. The planets travel around the Sun. There are eight planets in all. Earth is the third planet from the Sun. energy: the ability to do work. The Sun is extremely hot. The hottest part of the Sun is its center, or core. One type of gas changes into another in the core. This change gives off a lot of energy. The heat and light energy travel through space from the Sun to the planets around it, including Earth. There are different types of energy. One type of energy is light. Some of the Sun s energy is given off as light that you can see. The eight planets in the Solar System receive light and heat from the Sun. 72

3 Another type of energy is thermal energy. This type of energy moves from one object to another as heat. Some of the Sun s energy is given off as heat. You can feel this type of energy as warmth. Think of a warm, sunny day. All that energy actually comes from the Sun! You can describe how hot or cold something is by measuring its temperature. You measure temperature with a thermometer. Water gets warmer when it takes in, or absorbs, heat from the Sun. Water gets cooler when it gives up, or releases, heat. try now Take a few minutes to explore the effects of the Sun s energy. To complete this activity, you will need the following materials: two plastic containers two thermometers 1. Fill the two plastic containers with the same amount of tap water. 2. Place a thermometer in each container. Record the temperatures after several minutes. 3. Put one container in a shady place. Put the other in direct sunlight. 4. Record the temperatures again after about 30 minutes. Compare the temperatures. Are there any differences? Why do you think so? The water cycle describes how water moves endlessly around the planet. It evaporates from the oceans. It condenses to form clouds. It falls back to Earth as precipitation. It flows back to the oceans as runoff. How is the Sun involved in the water cycle? The Sun s energy heats water on Earth. In fact, Earth is at just the right distance from the Sun for water to exist as a solid, a liquid, and a gas. The Sun can heat liquid water to change it to a gas. The change from a liquid to a gas is known as evaporation. A lot of water on Earth evaporates atmosphere: the layer from the oceans. The gas form of water is called water of air around Earth. vapor. There is water vapor in the air all around you. It does not have color. You cannot see it, but it s there. You can feel it on a humid day. People sometimes describe humid air as heavy or sticky. 73

4 Warm air near Earth s surface rises, or travels higher into the atmosphere. Air gets cooler as it rises, so the water vapor in air also loses heat. This causes the water to change from a gas back to a liquid. The change from a gas to a liquid is known as condensation. In the air, condensation forms tiny drops of liquid water. They are so small that they can float in air. Lots of drops together form clouds. Tiny drops of water can get larger and heavier. If they get too heavy to float in air, they fall to the ground. Water that falls from clouds is called precipitation. Rain, snow, and sleet are types of precipitation. When the water gets back to Earth s surface, some sinks into the ground and some flows on the surface as runoff. Snow and ice that melt also flow as liquid runoff. Water flows to streams, rivers, lakes, and eventually to oceans. This water is heated by the Sun and evaporates again from the rivers, lakes, or oceans. The changes happen over and over. There is no beginning or end to the changes, so they are known as the water cycle. Without the energy of the Sun, the water cycle would stop. Everyday Life: What is morning dew? Condensation does not happen only high up in the air. It can also happen close to the ground. During the night, water vapor in air near Earth s surface loses heat. The water vapor changes into drops of liquid water. You can see these drops on plants and other objects. You might also see them as fog. In the morning, the drops of water are heated again by the Sun. They change back into water vapor in the air. what do you think? Which process in the water cycle happens when water absorbs the Sun s energy? What would happen to the water cycle if the Sun s energy were blocked from reaching Earth? We can see condensation on plants as morning dew. 74

5 What Do You Know? This diagram shows the main parts of the water cycle. For each part, identify whether the main forms of water are solid, liquid, or gas. Write your answers directly on the diagram. Be careful: There are two different kinds of precipitation! 75

6 connecting with your child Modeling the Water Cycle Work with your child to investigate the significance of the Sun in Earth s water cycle. In order to complete this activity, you will need to gather two identical plastic containers, several ice cubes, a desk lamp, plastic wrap, and water. 1. Fill the containers with the same amount of cool tap water. 2. Stretch plastic wrap across the top of each container and secure it. If necessary, stretch a rubber band around the edge of the container to secure the plastic wrap. 3. Place one container in a shady location. 4. Gently place a few ice cubes on top of the plastic wrap for each container. 5. Shine a bright lamp on the other container. If you don t have a lamp, you can place the container in direct sunlight instead. 6. Observe each of the containers every few minutes for about 30 minutes. Pay attention to any drops that form on the plastic wrap. In this model, the bulb in the lamp represents the Sun, which is the star at the center of the Solar System. Like the Sun, the bulb from the lamp emits light and heat. You can use direct sunlight instead, but the lamp may give off more heat and shorten the observation time. In addition, the lamp allows you to complete the activity in poor weather or at night. As the water at the surface of the container under the lamp absorbs heat, it transforms from liquid water to water vapor through evaporation. The water vapor remains in the air above the water but under the plastic wrap. Be sure to remind your child that the water can t travel through the plastic wrap, so it must have come from the source below the plastic wrap layer. Water vapor in the air near the ice cools and releases heat. This causes it to transform back into a liquid through condensation. The liquid water can be observed as drops on the bottom plastic wrap. Replace the ice as needed to keep the region at the top of the setup cold. You should observe that more drops form in the container with the lamp or in direct sunlight because the water is heated. The water in the container in the shade can absorb heat from the surrounding air only, so it will evaporate more slowly. This container in the shade is used as a control in the experiment, so you have something with which to compare your results. Work with your child to answer these questions: Why did drops form on the plastic wrap? Did more drops form in one container than the other? Why? How does the setup model part of the water cycle? What part of your model showed energy being taken in? Which part of your model showed energy being given off? What was the purpose of putting one container in the shade? 76

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